An active approach to taking attendance

Mark Koprowski, Meiji University and Musashino University


Quick guide

  • Key words:taking attendance, taking roll, lexical sets, reviewing vocabulary, reviewing grammar
  • Learner English level: Beginner to advanced
  • Learner maturity: Elementary school to adult
  • Preparation time:5 minutes
  • Activity time:5-15 minutes, depending on class size
  • Materials:Blackboard or whiteboard (optional)


Kyoko? Hai!... Shun? Hai!... Chizu?... Hai!

Sound familiar? In larger classes especially, the attendance stage of the lesson is often seen as a mechanical, pedagogically inert chore and a major saboteur of precious classroom time. While students keep their ears attuned to the sound of their names only, they are often left unengaged and idle in the critical first few minutes of the lesson. Once recorded as officially here, students may nod off, launch into an exotic day dream, chat with their neighbor, or gaze longingly at their cell phone screens for an incoming message to break the tedium. How can teachers transform this drudgery into something meaningful and fun?

Here, I advance a more engaging and pedagogically useful alternative to the typical, educationally sterile task of taking the register. Instead of allowing students to assume a largely passive role in the attendance process, we simply make students give a pedagogically relevant response. This technique can be ideally utilized when reviewing vocabulary and grammatical structures.


First, determine the lexical area or grammatical structure you would like your class to review. In the case of vocabulary, imagine you wish to revisit words associated with family. Instead of the usual “Hai!” signaling a student’s presence, students are asked, at the sound of their name, to volunteer a family word: father, mother, cousin, mother-in-law, twin and so on. One crucial rule is that the same word or phrase cannot be repeated by other students during the activity. This compels the class to listen carefully to words already given in order to avoid repeating the same answers.

As for grammar, consider a question or prompt you can give your class which will elicit a particular structure for review. For example, if reviewing the simple past, the prompt might be, “Tell me something interesting you did last weekend.” If reviewing adverbs of frequency, you might ask, “How often do you go to Tokyo Disneyland?” And if reviewing future forms, the class could be asked, “What are you going to do this weekend?” As the teacher reads out each name on the roster, each student gives a personalized response to the prompt or question.

However, a few caveats and practical suggestions are in order.

The instructor may first want to write the question or prompt on the board with a model answer. What did you do last weekend? On Saturday, I went shopping with my mother and bought a new jacket at Zara.

Although students will likely have a natural inclination to listen to the personal experiences of their classmates, it may also be helpful for the teacher to build in a listening task. This might include, for example, “Listen to your classmates. How many of them did the same thing you did last weekend?”

It is also advised that the teacher call out names at random. This provides an element of suspense. It’s also fair, especially when asking students to elicit words from a lexical set.

Some lexical areas for review might include: countries,nationalities,days of the week/months,animals,clothing,styles of music,shops,musical instruments,irregular verbs,furniture,parts of the body,fruit & vegetables,common health problems,jobs,and forms of transportation.

Conceivable areas for grammar review include: simple present, simple past, present,continuous, present perfect, there/there are, conditionals, adverbs of frequency, conditionals, future with going to, comparisons, superlatives, advice with should/shouldn’t, and wishes.


In addition to satisfying the business of taking roll, this fun and active approach to taking attendance functions as a lively and engaging review of vocabulary and grammatical forms; it offers comprehensible input to learners; it offers a quick check of learning; and it facilitates individual teacher-student interaction which is often lacking in larger classes. Say goodbye to the mundane traditional form of attendance-taking by making it absent in your next lesson!